Oct 312012

It has been a month since I moved The Dress Doctor, and I really couldn’t have made a better decision. Sure, I’m not on a high street, or with a desirable postcode, but I am in a the perfect space for my work, with lots of light, a table that is posture friendly and surrounded by other artists and designers in adjacent studios.

Hythe Road is not glamorous, but it is brilliant. It was the site of the Rolls Royce plant, and is hemmed in by railways and the Grand Union Canal. The motor trade is still strong here, and there are two huge recycling plants. As I walk past the clanging beast that turns car carcasses into something approximating baked bean tins, it reminds me of the waste we discard, and that each item contains valuable raw materials. You can also see all the tunnel segments laid out waiting to become Crossrail, paving the way to the future. All this along with the heritage of high quality craftsmanship and manufacturing from the site has focused my mind wonderfully on my impact on the world, and ability to work in harmony with it. The Brazilian café downstairs is also good for the soul.

A few notes:

– Cork topped cutting table to help with pinning patterns and to prevent fabric slipping.
– Machine and ironing board close for pressing.
– Well padded ironing board to reduce seam allowances being imprinted in garments.
– Piano stool instead of machining stool. It’s cheap, comfortable and the right height.
– Wooden drawers for frequent access items, cardboard archive boxes for occasionals.
– Visual labeling on fabric boxes.

Jul 172012

As I plough through my thirties weddings are becoming fewer and further between, and my peer group are beginning to focus on babies.  I’ve made a few custom baby grows now, and thought I would share.  On the whole they are gender neutral, as I’ve been organised and stitched in advance, but the odd one slipped past the due date.  Vintage embroidery transfers and silks are used where possible for a timeless feel.

baby grow photo

plomin junior baby grow

Please get in touch if you would like to commission one of these for a present.  I’m happy to work on any base garment.
Prices start at £25.

Jul 132012

Making hats is one of my greatest pleasures.  It turns out that I am from various lines of women who were either milliners or amateur hat makers, and as there have been deaths I have inherited quantities of antique lace, wax fruit, exotic feathers (shhh!) and half finished projects.

Over the years I have revived several vintage wedding dresses, either belonging to ancestors or from markets.  This is the first in a line of hats which come from a bygone era, yet are comfortable and flattering to wear – steering well clear of fancy dress territory.

1920s hat

We all associate the cloche, i.e. bell shaped, hat with the 1920s.  Well, this is the bridal version.  A turned up brim was optional, as were the layers of frills and flounces, but they all fitted closely to the head and framed the face in a flattering way.  Floral decoration ear muff style was common, and the veil would descend symmetrically from these points.  Sometimes the headdress would be nothing more than a giant veil laid across the forehead and tamed at the ears.  A little blousey for modern tastes, if you ask me.

Using a disintegrating lace cap from a box of Edwardian oddments I made a pattern for this hat.  The main shape is from 2 pieces of vintage cotton lace hand sewn and blocked to form a good shape.  The brim is lightly wired for silhouette and a piece of more elaborate trim stitched where the brim turns up.  The floral decorations are made of cut motifs from the main lace stitched together so they have some texture, mounted on a rosette of trim.  They are pinned on so it is still possible to wear a veil in the period style.

Bespoke prices from £300

Jul 102012

eBay can be a wonderful place with if approached with discernment, patience and a good eye.  Russell Quilter, an absolute gem of a plumbers/boiler engineer, purchased a wrought iron arbour with potential earlier this year.  Once installed, it was sealed to prevent rust and stain rubbing off on the seated’s behind.  The next step was to bring comfort to said behind with some soft furnishings.

The cushions were made to a template which was sent off, cut in 3″ foam, then wrapped in wadding and stockingette.  The fabric had to be without direction or nap due to the shape of the cushions.  William Morris “Cray” worked perfectly, being warm, hard wearing,  timeless and with very little direction.  The base of each cushion is made of a waterproof cotton/ neoprene cloth and the piping a lighter cotton in the same colour.  Everything you see in these pictures other than the red cotton came from our favourite online auction house .  Choosing carefully and asking the sellers oodles of questions really does pay off if you want your project to be unique without breaking the bank.

Bespoke bench cushions from £90.
Please get in touch for a quote for your project

Jul 052012

People periodically ask what the craziest thing I have ever been asked to make is.  As The Dress Doctor the answer is fairly tame: a reproduction of Björk’s swan dress, as seen here on the red carpet:

The copy was for a birthday party that involved Leicester Square, and apparently gained a lot of attention!  The dress was made with net and rows of bound feathers, all mounted on flesh lycra, the head a polystyrene fake peach pushed inside a lycra tube, and the neck from beanbag filling to ensure flexibility.

swan dress

swan head detial

There were plenty of odd requests when I was a costume supervisor, of which very few pictures survive.  I remember a padded belly for a middle aged man that the designer insisted had to be filled with lentils to give it a good weight, the semi-obligatory half dress for Cinderella’s quick change en route to the ball and numerous panto accessories and animal masks, feet etc.  And then there was this:

Gendarme riding an ostrich, les mamelles de tiresias, Poulenc

photo by Nobby Clark

That’s right.  It’s a gendarme riding an ostrich.  In the score for “Les Mamelles de Tirésias”, Poulenc’s surrealist opera, it actually says “Gendarme enters on an ostrich”.  This was quite a feat of construction, with a riveted aluminium frame, air conditioning duct, carved polystyrene head and more feathers than any drama school should be able to justify with their budget, but it was a triumph.  Gideon Davey was the  very talented designer on the production.

Then there were the largely undocumented, last minute requests when I worked in themed events: a singing jacket potato costume, camels to be raced (same principle as the ostrich – dyed tights and fake legs) and chair covers to look like basket ball kits.  Thank goodness that’s in the past and I can now relax by hemming a spot of quality vintage tweed.

Swan dress from £500Ostrich from £5000

Jul 032012

Surrey Life cover by Jo Khan, July 2012.

Having recently relocated to Surrey, Jo Poole, aka The Dress Doctor, offers an exclusive service that transforms the contents of your wardrobe.  Say goodbye to the much-loved items hiding at the back of your cupboard simply because they don’t fit!  Jo will come to your home, take you through a fitting session and alter these garments accordingly on-site, or take away to her workroom.  Once she’s worked her magic, you’ll feel as though you have a new wardrobe without even going shopping!  It’s been tried and tested by me and it’s easy to see why Jo was named one of the UK’s leading young social entrepreneurs in the Future 100 last year.

•  For further information, you can contact Jo by calling her on 07855 032 705 or visit her website: thedressdoctor.co.uk

Jo Khan has a monthly fashion column in Surrey Life.  She is the style guru behind Consensio Style


Jul 022012

This was a dream commission.  I was asked to make a hat for the private view of an exhibition about Charles Darwin, to be worn by its glamorous curator.  Darwin was fascinated by the markings on the Argus pheasant’s feathers, and had several samples in his collection which were to be displayed at the museum.  A single glorious feather was donated by a local bird breeder for the purpose of the hat, and normal pheasant feathers were used for the base piece, reserved from the last bird I plucked for supper!

I covered a blocked net base in olive silk organza to create a light but stable foundation.  Next, a wing shape was cut from leather, and covered with common pheasant feathers to make a base for the main attraction to grow from.  The Argus pheasant feather was curled, stitched to the hat base and supported with wires at intervals to ensure it remained stable.  As with all my hats, it remained light and away from the wearer’s sight line to avoid the “hat wearing its mistress” issue.

Bespoke millinery prices from £300.
Argus pheasant feathers are not available for conservation reasons, so alternatives may have to be used.

Apr 172012

The Future of RetailDuring my teenage years I adored shopping.  On a Saturday morning I’d assemble a bonkers outfit, mount my boneshaker of a bicycle and ride miles to spend hours milling around town.  And an even bigger thrill was to be gained by repeating the experience on unfamiliar tarmac or foreign shores, albeit without the bicycle.  I would glimpse the lives of others, objects new and old, ugly and beautiful, and emerge better educated.

Now I avoid “the shops”.  The homogeneity of outlets and content leaves me cold.  What is there to discover when you’ve seen it all before, often in another country?  OK, so the collections change every 6 weeks, but where is the innovation? the passion in production? the glimpse into other’s lives? the escapism?  I want my leisure time to be filled with joy.

In The Thoughtful Dresser, Linda Grant talks about the origins of retail.  Department stores were one of the only places a respectable woman could go outside the home, and it served purposes way beyond the parting of cash.  We see these social functions as the focus of Mary Portas’ work as she strategises the re-birth of our town centres.  I wish her well.

A couple of months ago a supplement came with The Times: Raconteur on The future of retail.  It contained a wealth of information and advice for retaillers hoping to survive the current downturn whilst keeping abreast of technological advances.  As I flicked through, multiple alarm bells rang.  Now, I agree with the idea merging stores with online sales so items can be variously viewed in the flesh, bought online and returned to stores.  The idea that online overseas sales can offer a brand stability is good.  However, “Real world retail isn’t dead; it just needs an engaging, data-driven, interactive shot in the arm” is just nonsense.  When did the industry remove the products from the equation?  People buy things they are attracted to, that are well designed to fulfill necessary functions and that make their heart sing.  Your lack of data is not reducing sales, your lousy stock is.

And mid-rant another of these gems was delivered this morning: Raconteur on Customer Loyalty.  Again, the bells clanged.  By page 14 it is admitted that they are not talking about customer loyalty, but consumer-retention marketing. Really? You don’t think we figured that out already?

Currently, a huge amount of retailler’s resource goes into technology, data management and security.  Surely this should be re-directed into good design, quality materials, payment of living wages and provision of excellent service?  The modern consumer has a wealth of data at hand, and this is what big business is scared of.  We are able to shop around (or scan and scram) and this is terrifying for those rooted in top down marketing.  The people have access to power.  Now they need to seize it.

My hopes are for an end to unthinking consumption, increased customisation of products, and greater availabilty of objects which are worthy of emotional investment.  These cannot be bought with loyalty cards, but they can be made with love.  Educate yourself about materials and production, seek gems and allow them to bring joy into your life.

Apr 162012

This gorgeous jacket was inherited from its owner’s Mother and has had a full life over several decades.  Unsurprisingly, age has taken its toll.  The lining had disintegrated around the armholes and at the hem and all but one button had vanished.  As both the fabric and construction were of good quality and the outer was still in good nick, restoration was well worth undertaking.

The lining was removed and replaced with new in the same colour.  The sleeves were relined with specialist sleeve lining.  This is harder wearing, to take into account activity from writing, driving, and bag carrying.  As the jacket is a sage green wool similar to that used in uniforms, the buttons were replaced with vintage buttons of the WW2 era.  I hope it has many good decades ahead.

Relining prices from £70, for men and women.,
Please get in touch for a quote.